word craft


Gold Rush Girl

What’s this book about?

Avi brings us mud-caked, tent-filled San Fran­cis­co in 1848 with a will­ful hero­ine who goes on an unintended—and perilous—adventure to save her broth­er.

Vic­to­ria Blais­dell longs for inde­pen­dence and adven­ture, and she yearns to accom­pa­ny her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less trav­el all the way from Rhode Island to Cal­i­for­nia. Deter­mined to take con­trol of her own des­tiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Fran­cis­co is fren­zied and full of wild and dan­ger­ous men, Tory finds free­dom and friend­ship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger broth­er, Jacob, is kid­napped. And so Tory is spurred on a treach­er­ous search for him in Rot­ten Row, a part of San Fran­cis­co Bay crowd­ed with hun­dreds of aban­doned ships. Beloved sto­ry­teller Avi is at the top of his form as he ush­ers us back to an extra­or­di­nary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a hero­ine read­ers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high sus­pense make this a vivid, absorb­ing his­tor­i­cal adventure.

Awards and Recognition

San Fran­cis­co is a city where I have lived often, vis­it­ed, and have great fond­ness for. I first went there in the fall of 1961, hav­ing fin­ished my grad­u­ate class time at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin, Madi­son. A fel­low I knew was set­ting up a new the­atre, and he want­ed to do a play I had writ­ten. I took a Grey­hound bus from Madi­son to Chica­go, anoth­er bus from the Windy City to the Gold­en Gate. I have a vivid rec­ol­lec­tion of the bus com­ing to a stop moments after cross­ing into Neva­da. “Neva­da!” the dri­ver shout­ed, wak­ing me up. “Half an hour stop.” I watched most of the pas­sen­gers pour off and start play­ing slot machines. It was two AM.

Once in San Fran­cis­co I met the guy who want­ed to pro­duce my play. Turns out he had already hired an actor for the first play he was going to put on—an adap­ta­tion of James Joyce’s Ulysses. That actor was named Tom Ewing, a good friend of mine from Wis­con­sin the­atre days.

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Awards and Recognition

  • Cal­i­for­nia Young Read­ers Medal 2022–2023 Inter­me­di­ate nominee


“With his char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly sus­pense­ful style, Avi crafts a rous­ing his­tor­i­cal adven­ture helmed by a spir­it­ed pro­tag­o­nist whom read­ers will love. Tory’s first-per­son nar­ra­tion fur­ther con­nects read­ers to the gold rush–era sto­ry, which con­cludes with room for future exploits. One of Avi’s best.” (J.B. Pet­ty, Book­list, starred review)

“Gold rush fever brings 13-year-old Tori, her father, and her younger broth­er Jacob to 1849 San Fran­cis­co. The untamed town is a world away from their staid life in Prov­i­dence, but head­strong Tori embraces the move. Like her lit­er­ary hero­ine Jane Eyre, Tori longs for a life of adven­ture. After their father leaves for the gold fields, Tori and Jacob fend for them­selves in a city where the vul­ner­a­ble are often exploit­ed. Jacob’s sud­den dis­ap­pear­ance com­pels Tori to set aside her dreams of inde­pen­dence and find her broth­er. Avi once more proves him­self a mas­ter of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, effec­tive­ly using Tori’s search to immerse read­ers in the city’s sights and sounds. Ful­ly real­ized sup­port­ing char­ac­ters reflect the mélange of cul­tures and dreams that brought peo­ple to Cal­i­for­nia in search of gold. Tori is more than the “spunky girl ahead of her time” trope; she’s a daugh­ter, a sis­ter, a friend, and an indi­vid­ual who is set on achiev­ing her dreams but not at the expense of oth­ers. Avi speaks through Tori to con­vey appre­ci­a­tion for libraries, lit­er­a­ture, and the true val­ue of read­ing: “It is not to learn about oth­ers. It is to learn about one­self.” VERDICT Tori dis­cov­ers adven­ture in the novel’s taut, sus­pense­ful nar­ra­tive, and self-deter­mi­na­tion in the final scene, which leaves read­ers’ spir­its as full as the sails on the lit­tle boat that car­ries her toward the future. A first pur­chase for all mid­dle grade libraries.” (School Library Jour­nal, Mary­beth Kozikows­ki, Sachem Pub­lic Library, Hol­brook, NY)

“Did you know that in Gold Rush days, before the shore­line was filled and built up, Mont­gomery Street was on the water­front? Did you know that a whole fleet of nine­teenth cen­tu­ry ships are buried amidst the foun­da­tions of down­town San Fran­cis­co build­ings? There is much fas­ci­nat­ing San Fran­cis­co his­to­ry and geog­ra­phy tucked into this glo­ri­ous romp through California’s Gold Rush days. Gold Rush Girl is the best book for young peo­ple about the 1849 Gold Rush since Sid Fleischman’s By the Great Horn Spoon, a book I first read back in fourth grade. … While I typ­i­cal­ly don’t pay much atten­tion to dust jack­ets, Sarah J. Coleman’s eye-catch­ing art­work here is a won­der­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the three ado­les­cents, onboard and on their way to find and res­cue Jacob. Avi’s con­clu­sion to the sto­ry, while thor­ough­ly ful­fill­ing, begs for a sequel. I, for one, can’t wait!” (Richie Part­ing­ton, Richie’s Picks)

“Con­tain­ing strong fem­i­nist themes, this fast-paced tale vivid­ly con­trasts the wild­ness of 19th-cen­tu­ry San Fran­cis­co with stuffi­er New Eng­land. Tory is a brave yet naive pro­tag­o­nist, who makes a num­ber of mis­takes before prov­ing her­self a hero, and her dan­ger­ous encoun­ters with unscrupu­lous vil­lains pro­vide non­stop excite­ment and sus­pense.” (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)

“Upon their arrival in San Fran­cis­co (with its shock­ing­ly squalid, over­crowd­ed liv­ing con­di­tions), Father takes off for the gold fields, leav­ing Tory in charge of Jacob’s care and respon­si­ble for find­ing work. She makes three friends: Thad, a young man from Maine; Señor Ros­ales, own­er of a near­by restau­rant; and Sam, a bugle-play­er (who is African American)performing in the local saloons Tory’s self-lib­er­a­tion and her rela­tion­ships with both Señor Ros­ales and Sam are tinged with twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry sen­si­bil­i­ties but nonethe­less under­score her spunk and inde­pen­dence. When a thug (or crimp, in the local ver­nac­u­lar) kid­naps Jacob to force him into mar­itime ser­vice, it’s up to Tory, Thad, and Sam to find him. Read­ers are  thrust into a rip-roar­ing adven­ture, filled with sus­pense and dan­ger, and open-end­ed enough for a sequel.” (Bet­ty Carter, The Horn Book)

“A splen­did­ly excit­ing and acces­si­ble his­tor­i­cal adven­ture.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Tory deliv­ers the goods for adven­ture-hun­gry his­tor­i­cal fic­tion fans.” (Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books)

“… read­ers … will expe­ri­ence a great his­tor­i­cal adven­ture through the streets, ships, and har­bors of San Fran­cis­co. They’ll learn about crimps who kid­nap men and chil­dren and force them to work on ships. Read­ers will also fall in love with Tory, whose inde­pen­dence is test­ed when Jacob goes miss­ing on her watch. She will join forces with her new­found friends to find the broth­er whom she once wished was­n’t always around, but would ulti­mate­ly risk her life to save.” (School Library Con­nec­tion, Susan Anderson)

“In typ­i­cal Avi style, read­ers are immersed in 1848 San Fran­cis­co. Vivid imagery and descrip­tive lan­guage paint a detailed pic­ture of the squalid con­di­tions both on board ships and in the city, as well as the mud and the fog­gy weath­er which impact many key scenes. Tory’s first per­son nar­ra­tive makes the sto­ry even more excit­ing, and makes her char­ac­ter acces­si­ble to 21st cen­tu­ry read­ers who will iden­ti­fy with her emo­tions in many cir­cum­stances (espe­cial­ly her desire for some­thing excit­ing to hap­pen and her resent­ment at being left to care for her broth­er). Tory makes a num­ber of mis­takes in her quest to res­cue Jacob, and her will­ing­ness to admit them endears her fur­ther to her friends and her read­ers. This is a fast-paced adven­ture full of sus­pense, with lik­able friends and despi­ca­ble vil­lains, well worth the voy­age.” (Youth Ser­vices Book Review)

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